Village halls tackling loneliness

  • Loneliness and social isolation can be a major issue in rural areas
  • Village halls are well placed to host groups and run projects to build community cohesion
  • From 22-28 January 2019, Village Halls Week celebrates the contribution that village halls – and the volunteers running them – make to rural communities throughout England

Village halls are vital hubs for rural communities. Many are actively addressing loneliness and social isolation by running events, projects and services. 

As we celebrate national Village Halls Week (22-28 January) we take a look at some inspirational loneliness projects being run by village halls across England.

The Campaign to End Loneliness warns that loneliness can directly impact people’s health: “Lacking social connections is a comparable risk factor for early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and is worse for us than well-known risk factors such as obesity and physical inactivity.”

The Campaign, set up in 2011, believes that nobody who wants company should be without it, and that rural areas can have particular difficulties with social isolation because of lower social spending and reduced public transport services.

The 10,000 village halls in England often provide the only place to meet within a rural community, particularly for those least able to travel to more distant centres of activity.

Coalbrookdale, Shropshire

Coalbrookdale and Ironbridge Community Centre in Shropshire lies within the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site, which is visited by a million tourists each year. Around 1,000 people live in the village, public transport is limited and many elderly people live alone and have no access to a car.

Carolyn Healy is a volunteer at ‘Coffee and Chat’, a fortnightly meet-up at the centre, for local people wanting to meet others.

“Despite a rich programme of groups and activities at the hall, local older people could go weeks without seeing anyone,” she says.

“A local resident got a few of us together to discuss loneliness and we decided to start a coffee morning. I suggested that it shouldn’t be limited to older people, but open to anyone. I remembered how lonely I felt sometimes when my children were both pre-school age.

“We have a regular attendance of about 20 people of all ages. We have toys and craft activities for children, activities for adults, and health workers giving presentations. Volunteers bring cakes, tea and coffee.

“People who come tell us it has made an enormous difference to them. They really value being able to sit and chat, and just have a change of scenery.”

Tunstall, North Yorkshire

Volunteers from Tunstall, a village in North Yorkshire, turned an underused piece of land behind their village hall into a community garden.

Since the TIGER garden project started in 2017 – supported by grants from national and local funders – residents have transformed the land into a beautiful, accessible space, which attracts birds and wildlife. Allotment beds are available and anyone can pick the fruit from the abundant orchard.

Volunteer Project Manager, Paul Greenwood, explains: “Planning and developing the garden has brought the whole community together… and has helped neighbours get to know each other.

“It has had a positive impact on combatting loneliness in the area. For example, veterans from the nearby army garrison come to the garden to help out and enjoy the benefits of working in the open air. Villagers have donated benches and plants in memory of loved ones, and there are many events held in the garden such as concerts, fetes, weddings etc, which bring people together.

“But the main benefit is a calm, safe space where people can visit, listen to the birds and meet others. There are always people there to have an unplanned chat to, filling the gap of social interaction which is missing from many people’s days.”

“I would advise any village hall to do a project like this. It has really brought our community together to create a beautiful garden, which is now at the heart of our village.”

Village halls in Kent

Action with Communities in Kent runs a Rural Coffee Caravan project. Touring the region with information and cake, the caravan sets up at village halls, or in villages without halls.

In 2018, the project ran its coffee, cake and conversation sessions at 19 villages across Kent – attracting more than 1,700 visitors and providing outreach for more than 40 agencies. The then Minister for Loneliness, Tracey Crouch, took part in a session in her own constituency village of Wouldham.

One participant said: “It’s a good job you come. It’s a lifeline for me.”

Projects in your area

If you have been inspired to think about loneliness in your village or community, take a look at this guide produced by Community First in Herefordshire and Worcestershire. It includes information about projects and initiatives working hard to build community spirit and connect with vulnerable people in communities.

The guide also highlights good ideas and best practice, as well as providing advice on running coffee mornings, developing committees, and making activities accessible to people with impairments.

 

Header image: Volunteers from Tunstall Community Garden celebrating ‘Tunstall is Bootiful’